Peak(s):  Mt. Eolus  -  14,083 feet
North Eolus  -  14,039 feet
"Sunlight Spire" - 14,000 feet
Sunlight Peak  -  14,059 feet
Windom Peak  -  14,087 feet
Date Posted:  01/02/2018
Date Climbed:   12/29/2017
Author:  Furthermore
Additional Members:   dannyg23
 A Winter Sojourn To Chicago Basin: A Frozen Spire   


Windom Peak 14,087
Mount Eolus 14,083
Sunlight Peak 14,059
North Eolus 14,039
âSunlight Spireâť 13,995*



December 28-30, 2017
~40.1 Miles, ~11,900 Gain
TH: Purgatory Flats TH (2WD, year-round access)
~6.5 hour drive from Denver
Max difficulty: 5.4 C1


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I was worried I was going to have to solo this group as I wasn't about to pass up this fine condition window along with splitter weather. Luckily Marsters The Great was able to put me in contact with Danny G so we could team up. It's quite admirable that he gave up his chance for the FKA of the Spire in the winter so Danny and I could climb it.

Personally, I would have wanted to go into Chi Basin earlier but family commitments along with the holiday put that idea on hold. Danny was in the same boat. We decided to team up and met up at the Purgatory Flats TH the morning of the 28th.

Having never climbed with Danny, this was going to be an interesting dynamic. He was quick to talk me out of snowshoes, shovel and other mandatory winter camping items as he had talked with Homie regarding the conditions. I just couldn't believe that Chicago Basin was even attemptable at the end of December without snowshoes. Stubborn, I carried those items anyways as Danny went with trail runners. The joke was on me.

Look at all that shit that's totally unnecessary (Photo by Danny G)
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The Purgatory Flats Trail had a light snowpack but was well booted as we headed down the trail a little after 7AM. Several areas of the trail were snow free. I'm not entirely sure Purgatory Flats would be a viable option during a ânormalâť winter due to snow along with some avalanche prone areas. Just under 2 hours of hiking we reached the Animas River at Cascade; the standard starting point for most winter parties into Chicago Basin. My mind was blown on how little snow was between Cascade and Needle Creek, in which we made good time. We reached Needle Creek around 11:30 AM where another break was warranted before the uphill grind into Chicago Basin.

Sweet view from the Animas on the approach (Photo by Danny G)
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Who the f*$@ is this chuck? Snowshoes really? Got to admit, I'm styling. (Photo by Danny G)
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On our way up into Chicago Basin, we ran into two fellow winter 14er climbers and had a pleasant exchange. My pack felt especially heavy as we finally neared camp after 15 miles and 4,000 gain. All that extra climbing gear played a toll. We arrived at camp at 3:20 PM near 11,000 feet. A fine tradition of boiling water and packing for the following day ensued. Our original plan for day 2 was to climb the Eolus duo, shuttle climbing gear to the base of Sunlight and then add Windom. Leaving another full day for the Spire and Sunlight.

Camp in Chicago Basin
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Sunset over the peaks
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Tent time; there was plenty of it. The alarm went off at 4:00 AM and we headed out of camp by headlamp around 5:00 AM. With the lack of snow, we made quick work of the steep trail up to Twin Lakes. At Twin Lakes, we stashed all of our climbing gear and started into the basin towards Eolus. A decent trail was packed into the basin as we hiked upward. Lacking snow, the normal slope leading to the Eolus saddle was safe from avalanches. I can see why this would be a problematic area during a normal snowpack/winter.

Sunrise on Eolus
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Working up the basin towards Eolus
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Working up the basin towards Eolus
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Alpenglow on Eolus
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A few rim covered slabs led us to the saddle where we ditched our packs and did the short, mostly snow-free, scramble to the summit of North Eolus where we arrived at 8:00 AM. North Eolus has some of the finest views in my opinion. We returned back to our packs, crossed The Catwalk and worked our way up Eolus's northeast ridge. We stayed on the ridge crest or just right of the ridge crest as we scrambled to the summit where we arrived at 8:30 AM.

Heading up the summit of North Eolus. (Photo by Danny G)
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Heading up the summit of North Eolus. (Photo by Danny G)
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Summit of North Eolus
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Dry summit view from North Eolus.
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Catwalk on Eolus
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Catwalk on Eolus. (Photo by Danny G)
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Reaching the final ridge.
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Scrambling up Eolus.
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Scrambling up Eolus.
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Returning to our packs, we made a quick descent back to Twin Lakes. Considering how much daylight we had left, we decided to attempt Sunlight Spire; we could always add Sunlight and Windom in the dark if needed. After another hour of uphill grinding with the heavy packs, we reached the Sunlight-Sunlight Spire saddle.

Basin towards Sunlight.
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Basin towards Sunlight DEC 2016 (Photo by DannyG)
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Basin towards Sunlight DEC 2016 (Photo by DannyG)
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Working our way up the basin towards Sunlight. (Photo by Danny G)
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Working our way up towards Sunlight.
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Ledges to reach the base Sunlight Spire.
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Scrambling on ledges, we headed toward the base of the Spire. Some snow was encountered but nothing was too prohibitive in our progress. We opted for the semi-low approach and traversed ~50-100 feet below the ridge crest.

Danny took the approach pitch, racked gear and started towards the base of the final headwall crack. For the most part, the approach pitch was class 4, with a final move of 5.4 to reach the belay ledge at the base of the crack. At this point, we combined our packs into a single pack for the technical portion of the Spire.

Approach Pitch on Sunlight Spire
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Looking up at the belay ledge on Sunlight Spire.
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I followed the approach pitch, reached the belay ledge and re-racked the gear. Fortunately at this point, the route went into the sun. Despite the low snow, we still had cold winter temperatures. I prepared my aid setup and headed upwards. I tried French freeing the start of the climb but even hand jamming with gloves my hands started to freeze. A small breeze had picked up making the climb feel more strenuous and cold. (I've already gotten flack for not freeing this pitch but someone else is welcome to the climb in better style. It already sucks to complete the 18 mile approach with a climbing rack and rope, free climb the strenuous 5.10 crack at altitude AND not freeze hands in the process. Good luck!)

It only took me 30 minutes to aid the second pitch. I reached the summit and quickly fixed the line so Danny could start jugging. The wind started to pick up. As Danny jugged, he was having trouble cleaning the gear as his hands were numb and frozen. He reached the summit where our visit was short. I quickly set up the rappel while Danny tried to get feeling back into his hands.

Starting the aid. (Photo by Danny G)
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Nearing the top. (Photo by Danny G)
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Preparing for the summit mantle. (Photo by Danny G)
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Aiding the Spire (Photo by John B. Thanks!)
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Aiding the Spire (Photo by John B. Thanks!)
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Summit of the Spire (Photo by John B. Thanks!)
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Summit of the Spire (Photo by John B. Thanks!)
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Looking down the aid crack on the Spire.
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Summit of the Spire. (How about that new fancy bolt?)
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Sunlight from the summit of the Spire.
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Danny jugging up the Spire.
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Look at this goob and his summit selfie.
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The rappel had an awkward start but we both reached the base of the climb and set up for the second rappel. Unfortunately, as we pulled our ropes, the wind was strong enough to whip the other end of the rope over the saddle. Our rope was stuck and we couldn't pull it. Danny quickly tied in to the other end, and started an awkward offwidth to reach the saddle to un-snag our rope. At least from this position my belay was in the sun and somewhat out of the wind.

Rappelling off the Spire.
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Fortunately, the rope was quickly freed and Danny finished down-climbing back to the belay ledge. We completed our second rappel and traversed back to the Sunlight-Sunlight Spire saddle reaching it around 1:40 PM. For the most part, climbing up Sunlight was dry with few areas of patchy snow. Danny mentioned how different the climb was from almost exactly one year ago. Last year there were sections of deep snow and powder which slowed their progress.

A quick dry romp up Sunlight's summit block, we arrived just before 2:00 PM. At this point, I was glad the wind died down and to our astonishment, it was likely we were going to summit all 5 peaks and make it back to camp before dark.

Summit of Sunlight.
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Spire form the summit of Sunlight.
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Eolus group from Sunlight.
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John on the summit of Windom.
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We made quick work of the descent off Sunlight and started into the basin between Sunlight and Windom where some thigh deep snow was encountered. The final grunt to gain Windom's west ridge was particularly demoralizing with the heavy packs. We ditched the packs and scurried up to the summit of Windom where we arrived at 3:10 PM. Nothing but a slog remained back to camp where we arrived just before dark at 5PM.

Summit view from Windom.
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A big difference. Summit view from Windom DEC 2016 (Photo by Danny G)
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Waning daylight.
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Despite having exhausted legs, we decided to eat dinner, pack up camp and continue down the trail. I had no idea we would be this successful in climbing all the peaks in a single day in the winter; it just shows what the variance in conditions can do. It was a loooong slog to Cascade where we slept in the gazebo arriving around 10:30 PM. Exhausted we sacked out, woke up late and started the final grind uphill back to the Purgatory Flats Trailhead. We arrived back at the cars in just a little over 2 days. Tired, sore but highly rewarded.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46


Comments or Questions
Summit Lounger

Congrats
01/02/2018 20:53
Congratulations on a fine trip to the two of you. You guys got a lot of climbing done in 2 days!!!!!!


mountainute
very cool
01/02/2018 21:00


AndYouSeeMe

Wowsers
01/02/2018 22:05
Not much else to say than that. Great work!


jmanner

Winter kit...
01/03/2018 08:31
If you had left it at the car, you would have needed it. Nice work fellas! Sunlight Spire in winter! Not bad for a couple dads.


blazintoes

So, you always carry snowshoes?
01/03/2018 09:51
FOS!
With a pack full of FOD. Maybe you would've made a better ramper because you clean up like one despite long duty days.


dannyg23

Sojourn so hard
01/03/2018 11:13
To add to the free/aid topic: I had looked longingly at my climbing shoes at the car thinking to climb it free. Derek never even considered it, and since he climbs way harder than me I dropped it. In the end, he was right big time. There€„˘s is absolutely no way I could€„˘ve jammed that crack. Just pulling the gear, that was the coldest I€„˘ve ever let my fingers get. That in probably the warmest temps a winter day is likely to provide.

Stoked to get out and climb again with you soon Derek!


FireOnTheMountain

congrats
01/03/2018 12:22
the pics the dude got of you guys on the spire are sweet!


BillMiddlebrook

Very cool
01/03/2018 15:10
Great job, guys. I love this report.


RyGuy

Solid work!
01/03/2018 23:34
Congrats guys! I was thrilled to hear you not only got the 4 main peaks, but the Spire too!

-Ryan


bmcqueen

Awesome job guys!
01/04/2018 10:43
Congrats!


JQDivide

Wow
01/04/2018 11:32
John was telling us about your success... great to read it from your perspective!


mountain_stoke

Badassery
01/04/2018 12:39
Congrats on the FKWA guys. And cool writeup. Danny, the spire should really boost your winter peak weighting scheme total!


ScreeSurfer

Great trip report
01/06/2018 14:24
I was amazed to hear "On Belay" while halfway up Sunlight peak, and it was cool to look up and find you working your way up the Spire! Congrats for the first known winter ascent!


kayleenann8

great job!
01/08/2018 11:32
HELL YEAH! Way to go, guys!



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